The Egyptian Museum – Cairo – December 22, 2016
“Here’s what we’re preparing for our 2018 exhibit, Gordon.”
Archeologist Gordon Ashe was being given a private tour of the new wing of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo by his friend Dr. Tarek Sayed Tawfik, the general director.
“This is truly astounding, Tarek. I have to admit to being more than a little envious. All five thousand of the artifacts that had been discovered in King Tutankhamun’s tomb will be displayed together for the first time.”
“You shouldn’t be envious, Gordon. After all, you’re here almost two years ahead of schedule, and you didn’t even have to pay the price of admission.”
“I guess being a personal friend of the director helps.”
Both men laughed. Gordon and Tarek had become friends at Oxford as undergraduates some decades ago. Both had a passion for antiquities but their lives traveled along highly divergent trajectories. Tarek had eventually gone into administration and Gordon gave up life as a field archeologist to work for the U.S. Government, though of course Tarek wasn’t sure exactly what services the esteemed Dr. Ashe performed for them.
“It’s all so overwhelming but even so, I’m particularly drawn to the burial sled of the god Anubis.”
“Anubis watched over the body and spirit of Tutankhamun, even though there are rumors that the sled itself may contain a clue as to the young King’s death.”
“How so, Tarek?” Gordon hoped it hadn’t come to this, that the equipment the Egyptians were using to study these artifacts hadn’t detected what Gordon was here to discover for certain.
“It seems that there is a form of radiation being emitted from the sled.”
“Radiation?” Gordon hoped his acting job was adequate to fool his old friend.
“Very low level and I’ve been assured that it isn’t dangerous.” Tarek held up his hand and chuckled trying to put Ashe at ease.
“What sort of radiation?”
“That seems to be the puzzle. Our radiologists are unable to identify it. However legend says that the sled contains, among other things, an artifact given to the young King by his tutor Sennedjem nearly ten years before his demise, and that somehow it contributed, or even caused Tutankhamun’s death.”
“A radioactive artifact? But you said it wasn’t dangerous, Tarek.”
“Tut has been dead for well over 3,300 years, Gordon. Whatever is being emitted from the sled likely has diminished in intensity during that time, plus the sled itself may be blocking some of that radiation. The artifact that legend says is responsible is contained inside and was carried on the King’s person day and night for nearly a decade. It is even said, though unsubstantiated, that Sennedjem preceded the King in death by Tut’s command once he discovered what the teacher’s gift had done to him.”
“That’s a lot of rumor and innuendo, Tarek, especially for a scientist.”
“I thought so too, that is, until this mysterious radiation was discovered.”
“Do you still intend on putting Anubis on display with the rest of the Tut artifacts?”
“I believe so. Hopefully, we’ll have understood the cause by then, and if necessary, we can take extra precautions to limit or eliminate exposure to the public.”
Gordon sighed. “Well, keep me informed if you can. I love a good mystery.” It was difficult to manage, but the Project’s technicians had woven non-ferrous fibers throughout his clothing as a sort of sensor net. His innocent looking cell phone, turned off for the visit, was connected to the net and concealed a scanner device specifically designed to detect chronoton radiation. He’d heard the rumors of Dr. Tawfik’s unusual radiation find. His mission here was to confirm that the artifact contained within the sled of Anubis was a Forerunner device, one that may have traveled through time or that was even capable of initiating time travel.
Tarek patted Gordon’s shoulder. “Of course, my friend. Come, let me buy you a cup of our excellent coffee.”
“Starbucks again, Tarek?”
“Oh please, Gordon. I meant El-Fishawi of course. Starbucks? Really?”
Their laughter echoed in the archeologist’s dreams.
Valley of the Kings -Egypt – November 26, 1922
British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon had followed each painstaking clue of discovery. Three weeks ago, they had uncovered the first step leading to the entrance of Tutankhamen’s tomb, a prize in and of itself that Carter thought he would never find. Just three days ago, their hopes were almost dashed as they broke through a mud and brick door to the passageway leading to the tomb, only to find evidence of robbers. So many other burial places had been pillaged, their treasures destroyed or stolen. If this were the case here, it was yet another crime against history.
Today, they found another door and made their way through. Carter leaned inside shining his lamp into the darkness, into a chamber that had seen only Stygian blackness for over 3,300 years.
“Can you see anything?” Carnarvon was curious, hopeful, and frustrated at being so close but not knowing if they’d found anything worthwhile.
“Yes, wonderful things. It is truly…” Amid the astonishing opulence of the small burial antechamber of King Tutankhamen, he could even see the footprints of the tomb builders, still preserved after over three millennia. Then she saw something else, something moving on the floor near what appeared to be a large representation of the jackal-faced god Anubis. It was a man and he was alive.
Gordon Ashe jumped through the time gate less than a second after Aiyana. At first he thought he could reach her before she went through, and then he hoped he would emerge wherever she did (and he further hoped that would be safe and sound back at Project Retrograde).
He had a headache but managed to rise to his hands and knees. A light was coming from one side of the room he was in. He thought he heard voices, voices speaking English, but he wasn’t sure. He looked up at the object directly in front of him and instantly recognized the burial sled of Anubis.
But this definitely wasn’t the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Gordon passed out wondering where in time he could possibly be.
Travis could hear the sound of thunder. He was being shaken. Where was he? In the passenger seat of a truck. Rain. He could hear the sound of the rain and the slap, slap, slap of windshield wipers. The radio was on but it was mostly static. He could hear a sudden burst of louder static every time there was a lightning strike.
“Rest easy, friend. I’ll get you home soon.”
A man’s voice speaking English. The driver. Travis wanted to ask “Where am I” when he meant “When am I?” Instead, he passed out.
Kingdom of Judah – Just North of Hebron – 10th century BCE
Aiyana’s eyes fluttered. She was lying on her back. She was cold and wet, lying in dew covered grass. The light was dim. It took her a minute to realize that the sun was just coming up over the horizon. She could hear the bleating of sheep, many of them. It was a sound she’d become accustomed to when she lived in the house of Aviram ben Hoshua and his family. But that was a lifetime ago, before leaping back through the time gate. Where was she? Certainly not back at the Project.
“Rachel. It is you. What are you doing out here? We thought you were still in Jerusalem.”
She opened her eyes. It was Abiyah. It was Aviram and Tovi’s oldest son, just turned thirteen. What the hell happened? She’d jumped through the time gate. Why was she still here?
“Abiyah. How did I get here? How long was I gone?”
Maybe she was propelled forward in time but not in space. Not too far forward apparently.
The young shepherd had jumped up. He was yelling at someone. Calling for help. Then he knelt down beside her again.
“I called Abba. He’s coming. We’ll get you back home. We are so glad to see you again. Did your kinsman not find you?”
She could hear running footsteps approach and then slow. The face of Aviram came into her field of vision just as it blurred and darkened.
Unknown Time and Space
Ross Murdock was right behind Gordon when he jumped through the temporal field and Travis was right behind him. He experienced the usual momentary disorientation, as if he didn’t exist in either time or space, then he all but fell through the gate at the other side.
The deck was metal. Wait. Forerunner metal. Lights were bright. He was definitely on his knees next to a time gate, but not Project Retrograde’s time gate. He could hear a chorus of clicks and snaps and something that sounded like a bunch of newspapers being crumpled and torn coming from in front, actually all around him.
He let his eyes adjust to the light and then looked up.
Forerunners. The time gate chamber was full of Forerunners. They were Blues. Maybe fifteen or twenty of them. The ones closest to him were leaning over him. They looked more curious and concerned than angry, but it was hard to tell with the Forerunner face.
“What the hell happened?”
The seemed startled when he spoke, as if it were somehow unexpected.
Ross remembered the reception he’d gotten from the Orange Forerunner at Atlantis. He remembered the psychic assault weapon used on him and Vasnev Romanovich at the Soviet base in the Ice Age.
They were speaking to him in their language as if they expected him to understand.
“I have no idea what you’re saying. What are you talking about?”
His mind link with the Blue gave him a great deal of insight into the Forerunners. He could read their written language but their spoken words were a mystery.
Then one of the Blues approached him with a psionic device, like the one he’d been mind raped with once before by a Blue and another time by an Orange. He pulled back and took a quick look behind him.
The time gate was turned off. For a brief moment, he thought that might be a means of escape. Now he was trapped, but where and when was he?
The Blue holding the device was gesturing. Ross got the impression it was trying to reason with him. They didn’t seem to have a hostile intent, not like before.
He looked at the device. It had been activated. Ross felt a kind of warmth, like taking a sip of a good bourbon and letting it hit the pit of your stomach. There was a mild sense of euphoria. He could hear a voice. It seemed gentle.
“We won’t hurt you. We are wondering how you came through our time gate. Who are you? You are not one of ours.”
“I don’t suppose anyone can tell me exactly what the hell happened and what we’re supposed to do about it.”
Colonel John Kelgarries hated meetings and he especially hated meetings that presented a major problem without a plan for a clear-cut solution. He really wanted to be smoking a cigar right about now, but even the military commander of Project Retrograde had to comply with the “no smoking” rules.
Kelgarries called “the usual suspects,” at least under the current circumstances, into the conference room. Temporal physicists Antoine Barnes and Mineyev Duskin had been whispering to each other excitedly, looking over the display of Barnes’s tablet when Kelgarries spoke. Thomas Lucius was sitting next to Lynn Huỳnh but they weren’t speaking. Thomas knew she blamed herself for the loss of Ashe’s team. It wasn’t true, of course, but she had also lost her lover to the vast corridor of time and it had to be somebody’s fault.
Major Vasnev Romanovich was sitting next to his friend Duskin but not involving himself in Duskin’s and Barnes’s interaction.
“I assume you would like me to respond to that statement, Colonel.” Dr. Barnes should have been used to the colonel’s gruff mannerisms by now, but he found intimidation and blame to be poor motivators.
“At this juncture Doctor, anything would be helpful. What went wrong? Why are all the gates not working?”
It was true that seventy-one hours after the termination of the incursion that successfully diverted the experimental Orange Forerunner time-spaceship to the neighborhood of Ceres where its drive spectacularly detonated, none of their time gates were functioning. They had saved millions of human lives and averted climate change and the next extinction event, but the consequence was losing four Project time agents and inhibiting the formation of any temporal field in any of the Project’s gates.
“Dr. Duskin and I have been working with the temporal mechanics team for the past three days, but it wasn’t until we consulted with Mr. Lucius and Ms. Huỳnh that we arrived at a probable cause, or at least a working understanding of the problem.”
“The gates are working, Sir. They never stopped working.” Lucius briefly looked in Lynn’s direction as she subtly nodded, then back at Kelgarries.
“You can explain that, of course.”
“Of course, Colonel.” Duskin was still feeling very new and a little off-balance at having been made a senior team member so quickly after his arrival in America, but he loved a good puzzle. “I’ve been going over the figures with Dr. Barnes, and once we factored in the readings from the base’s time gates, we discovered something unusual.”
“Don’t keep me in suspense, Dr. Duskin.”
“I shan’t. The fact of the matter is, all of the time gates are currently operational, but the time phase shift is several fractions of a second offset from our own.”
“For those of us who don’t speak ‘temporalese’ Doctor, what does that mean?”
“It means that when we triggered the incursion and then when the Forerunner experimental time-space drive exploded, it affected our ability to interface with the realm that allows time travel. If you were to step through any of our gates right now, you would be translated to some other time and location. We just have no idea where or when you’d end up. We believe that is what happened to Dr. Ashe’s team.”
“Fine, Dr. Barnes. What’s the fix?”
“To discover how to recalibrate our equipment so that we re-establish a compatible time phase, Colonel.”
“You can do that, right?”
“It will require some work, but I believe we can.”
“Once Dr. Barnes and Dr. Duskin arrive at the correct mathematical formula, Lynn and I can program the primary gate controller to recalibrate the Project’s gates to the correct time phase.”
“I am wondering Thomas, Antoine, if we will share that information with our counterparts in Russia?
“What do you mean, Vasnev?”
“I mean Colonel, that I have received information from my superiors that all of the Russian time gates went offline as well right at the moment of our incursion. As of right now, to the best of my knowledge, there are no functioning time gates on Earth.”
Kelgarries felt an uncustomary surge of excitement. This was the opportunity to achieve a true monopoly in Time Travel. With the Russian’s temporal capacities just as crippled as Retrograde’s, once they found a solution, they would be the only nation on the planet to be able to travel in time. All they had to do was keep it to themselves.
“Before you answer that question Colonel, let me remind you that part of your government’s agreement with mine was sharing of all relevant information relative to the time anomaly and efforts to avert climate change.”
“Vasnev, that ship has sailed. Climate change has been averted. Our agreement with the Russians has reached a conclusion. If that means you’re off team, then you are free to leave this room.”
The implication was clear. Vasnev Romanovich could leave the conference room, but if he were still working for the Russian military (no one was really sure what Vasnev’s intentions were), then he was not free to leave the base or even to communicate with anyone outside the base.
“Excuse me Vasnev, but maybe your Colonel has a point.” Duskin’s motives were not as mysterious as his fellow countryman’s. He was a declared defector. He had seen first hand that his former government treated scientists like pawns and that their only motive was for power and conquest. He hoped he saw other characteristics in the Americans, but he knew that keeping the Russians from regaining the power to travel in time for as long as possible had many benefits.
“Perhaps, Mineyev. Perhaps. I shall have to consider this.” He stood. “If you will excuse me, I shall return to my quarters.”
“You are dismissed, Major.”
Vasnev turned, and with regal military bearing, walked out of the conference room. Kelgarries immediately keyed the intercom in front of him. “Security. Code Orange for Major Romanovich.” There was a moment of static and then, “Lt. Carlyle here. Code Orange for Major Romanovich acknowledged, Colonel. Out.”
Kelgarries keyed off the comm.
“I assume this means my friend Vasnev will now be placed under surveillance until further notice, Colonel.”
“I’m not obligated to divulge whatever measures I deem necessary for the security of this base, Dr. Duskin, however, I have to make sure that confidential information remains confidential.”
The tension in the room felt like static electricity. They’d all worked closely with Vasnev. He was a member of Ashe’s team of agents, or so they all believed. It was at the very least uncomfortable that Kelgarries was treating him as a security risk. They knew the Colonel was doing his duty as an Army officer and Project Retrograde’s military commander, but duty didn’t always excuse everything.
To Mineyev, who had grown up under a totalitarian regime, it was still painful to be considered a friend one minute, and a threat the next.
“Now, what are the chances of retrieving Gordon Ashe and his team?”
Gordon came to and blinked his eyes. It was hot and dry. He was in a tent, canvas, laying on some sort of cot. Had he dreamed about the god Anubis towering over him as if he were a true supernatural deity?
“Oh good, you’re awake.”
Ashe looked up. He saw a distinguished looking man approaching middle age, dark hair oiled slick against his scalp, dress shirt in spite of the heat, spectacles. Obvious British accent, what used to be referred to as a “gentleman of breeding.”
“Now would you bloody well tell me who you are, how you got into a sealed tomb, and why you’re dressed in such outlandish clothing?”
Ashe sat up and found he felt better than expected. Just a slight headache. He swung his legs over the cot and planted his feet on the dirt.
“Mind if I have a drink of water first?”
“Of course.” He handed Gordon a canteen that from the archeologist’s estimate, was vintage circa the First World War. “By the way, my name is Howard Carter, and you?”
Howard Carter. He and Lord Carnarvon were the discoverers of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. It not only changed course of their careers, but dramatically impacted the world of Egyptology and archaeology. History recorded that Carter had died on March 2, 1939 in Kensington, London, in the United Kingdom, but here he was alive and in the flesh, one of Gordon’s childhood heroes.
“Gordon Ashe.” he extended his right hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
The other British archaeologist took his hand and shook it. Gordon handed back the canteen and Howard placed it on a small wooden crate.
“Now, would you please explain how you managed to be inside a tomb that has been sealed for over 3,000 years dear fellow? Carnarvon and I searched diligently and there is no other entrance besides the one in which we used.”
Gordon sighed. How could he possibly explain? He could hardly believe it himself. Somehow when he went through the gate, instead of returning to Project Retrograde in 2017, he had materialized in Egypt, November…oh what was the date…November 26, 1922.
It must be the artifact. The one in the burial sled of Anubis. Somehow the chronotons it was releasing attracted Gordon to this place and time. No, it didn’t make sense, not unless there had been another time storm and he’d fallen into one of Barnes’s time conduits. No, that didn’t make sense either. You didn’t have to be anywhere (or when) near a gate to fall victim to a time tunnel. He came here because he’d jumped through a gate.
The gate. Did it still exist on this side? Was it still sitting inside of the tomb? If it was, Carter, Carnarvon, anyone working in the tomb might step through it and end up…anywhere.
“Carter. You must believe me. You, everyone working inside the tomb is in great danger. You must evacuate the location where you found me immediately. The consequences of remaining in that room are astounding.”
“I’d take you for a madman except you are obviously educated and seemingly rational as indicated by your speech, and the fact that you have impossibly appeared inside a sealed Egyptian tomb.”
“It’s not impossible, just highly improbable, Carter. I wish I could prove it to you, but every second anyone remains in that room increases their chances of disappearing forever just in the manner that I appeared.”
“So you do have an explanation for your being in the tomb, Mr. Ashe.”
“One that you would not believe, Mr. Carter.”
“Most likely. I’m sorry but I will not stop my work. This is the find of a lifetime and I am under no obligation to listen to you. If you can tell me no more about you and your circumstances, I’ll have to declare you a trespasser and turn you over to the local authorities.”
Great. That’s all Gordon needed. To end up in some jail in Cairo in 1922, trapped nearly a century in the past.
“There are four chambers inside the tomb and it’s much smaller than you had expected for an Egyptian King.”
Carter’s eyes grew wide as Gordon, playing a desperation move, began to reveal what he could not possibly have known.
“You’ll find six chariots, two thrones, 139 ebony, ivory, silver, and gold walking sticks, 50 garments including tunics, kilts, gloves, scarves, and headdresses. There are 30 jars of wine, an odd assemblage of bracelets, anklets, scarabs, amulets, and other jewelry…”
“Stop. Please stop. You are reciting what anyone might reasonably expect to find in the tomb of an Egyptian King. I credit you for your education, but…”
“But I couldn’t possibly guess the exact number of objects, could I, or the fact that the tomb is smaller than expected. The walking sticks are because the King suffered from a deformity of the left foot cause by necrosis of bone tissue. He also suffered from a mild case of scoliosis.”
“There’s no way for anyone to know that prior to examination of the remains. What makes you so sure of your information?”
“The same way I’m sure that if you don’t clear your people out of the tomb, probably sooner than later, one or more of them will disappear for all eternity.”
“Colonel, we’ve got something. Come to Time Gate One immediately.” Lucius was too excited to worry about whether or not it sounded like he was ordering Kelgarries around over the comm.”
“On my way, Lucius.”
Barnes and Duskin had already been called. Lynn was working the other console. They had input the initial algorithms provided by the temporal mechanics team and were running some tests when they thought they heard a voice over the comm link.
The two physicists ran into the gate’s chamber together. Kelgarries was less than thirty seconds behind.
“This is Retrograde base. Please say again. You’re breaking up, you’re breaking up.”
“Who is it, Lynn?”
She looked up at Kelgarries. “I think it might be Gordon.”
Gordon had finally convinced Carter to accompany him alone inside the tomb. If Carter truly thought he was insane, then he certainly had every reason to fear that Ashe might attack him, but hopefully he believed Gordon was someone or something else.
Ashe was still wearing his “costume,” which was more appropriate for the 10th century BCE middle east than early 20th century Egypt, but he was also still wearing his earpiece and throat mike, both all but invisible to the unaided eye. It was a pity that Ross had been carrying the chronoton detector. He might be able to scan the Anubis sled and somehow prove it was emitting a type of radiation.
Radium was well-known in this day and age, so Gordon might be able to work off of that knowledge to convince Howard Carter that something like it was operating in the tomb right now.
It wasn’t lost on Ashe that the detector would also be able to register the presence of an active gate, if it really were still here in the tomb.
“Alright, Mr. Ashe. It’s just the two of us down here. I’ve complied with your wishes. Some proof would now be in order.”
Gordon keyed his mike. “This is Gordon Ashe calling Project Retrograde. Can you read me, over.”
Nothing but static. Then what sounded like word fragments. “I repeat, this is Gordon Ashe. My location is Egypt, the tomb of King Tut. It’s November 27, 1922, can you read me, over?”
Static. Then fragments. Only Gordon could hear. “Retro…break…say…”
“Lynn, is that you? It’s Gordon. Then the gate is active here. What’s wrong. Why can’t I get back?”
“Really, Mr. Ashe. You expect me to believe you are communicating with someone over such a tiny wireless device?”
Then for an instant, there was a flash. The shape. It conformed to a temporal field formed inside a time gate. It flashed again. “Gordon… static … can’t … positive lock … working … “stand by…”
On the other side of the gate, Lucius was manually adjusting the controls to achieve a closer time phase lock in the hopes of at least being able to communicate with Gordon.
“This is Lynn, Gordon. We can’t establish a positive lock on your position yet. We’re working on it. It should be soon. Stay where you are and please stand by.”
“What the devil?” Carter was astounded. He had no explanation for the strange display he was witnessing. He couldn’t hear who was speaking to Ashe, but it seemed apparent now that he was communicating with someone through a doorway he could not detect with his senses except for momentary flashes of light.
He had come to discover the archaeological find of the century, the tomb of King Tutankhamun. What he had actually found was something else entirely, something beyond human imagination.
“My dear Mr. Gordon Ashe. Who are you really and where, or should I say when are you from?”
The time incursion has sent each member of Gordon Ashe’s team to different locations in space and time with only a slight hope of ever being found and turned to the present. Yet where and when they’ve been sent may not be entirely random as this story hints at and the next one reveals. What is the secret of where and when the time agents have been sent to?
I’m playing fast and loose with history again, compressing a series of finds made over several months time to just a day or so. If I didn’t, the pace of the story would slow considerably. Hopefully though, you’ll be curious enough to discover the true and fascinating details of the discovery and exploration of the King Tut’s tomb.
In my homage to the works of the late Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton), this book is being called “Key Out of Time,” and the chapters thus far are:
- Prologue: Key Out of Time
- Interlude: What Lies in the Deep
- The Lost and the Found
- Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
- Diverting Armageddon.
- Eye of the Storm
The next chapter is Walking on Fragile Ribbons of Time.